By: Ana M. Vázquez Catoni
On October 14, a press conference on racial profiling in the United States and Puerto Rico was held at the Chardón Building at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. Panelists included comparative literature professor Christopher Powers, attorney José Negrón, and UPRM marketing student Brendan O’Boyle.
The first panelist was Christopher Powers, a doctor in comparative literature and currently a humanities professor at UPRM, stated that there are different ways people talk about racial profiling: supporters of law and order see it as a tool and advocates of civil liberties view it as abuse and racial discrimination.
“It’s a technique of social domination,” said Dr. Powers. He added that racial profiling marks part of the population as separate and keeps them afraid.” He claimed that racial profiling still exists because power exists. Furthermore, he explained that the three groups most targeted in the US are Latino immigrants, Muslims and African-Americans.
Powers agrees that the root of the problem of this issue is the fact that the term race is profiling, created by the practices of racial distinction. “Racial profiling kills,” Powers stated as he began mentioning the Michael Brown case, saying it enables and promotes police abuse.
The second panelist was José Negrón, a licensed attorney in PR and alumni of the UPRM. He indicated that racial profiling does not differ between the US and PR and it actually happens everywhere, giving the examples of Mexico, Germany, Arizona and in San Juan. The lawyer noted that “the most important defense against racial profiling is knowing your rights.” He has been a victim of racial profiling in Puerto Rico and in the workplace.
Dr. Negrón specified that stereotypes have been force-fed in the media, using as an example that movies portray African-Americans as the villains. Furthermore, in the US, he claimed that after the 9/11 attacks, Muslims have been mostly profiled and the government worsened it with the Patriot Act. Lastly, Dr. Negrón explained what to do when stopped by a police officer, encouraging the audience to know their rights.
The third and last panelist was Brendan O’Boyle, a marketing student at the UPRM. O’Boyle is originally from Michigan. He has been a victim of racial profiling and claims other people have incorrect assumptions based on his appearance. People have treated him differently and he does not take it personally because he knows others can be ignorant.
O’Boyle commented that in Michigan there’s been more issues of racial profiling against Muslims than African-Americans. Lastly, he expressed that our role in society as students is to take action and use what we’ve learned to help educate others, “need to have a social revolution, people need to wake up and we need to start teaching each other to treat each other with compassion and respect.”
Dr. Powers and Dr. Negrón discussed the Michael Brown case in Ferguson. Negrón mentioned that cases similar as this have occurred for years and that the Ferguson incident could help improve future police officer training.
On the other hand, Powers commented that this is an example of an unfortunate consequence of racial profiling and it is justified because “black lives mean less,” in the contemporary US. Says that to avoid racial profiling, we need a “long term cultural, educational, intellectual project of overcoming racism and stereotyping.”
According to RT, Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer on August 9, this year. This incident sparked protests and everyday, hundreds of people engage in various demonstrations demanding justice and accountability. The participants are hopeful that Ferguson’s city government and police force, has African-American representation.